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Apr

SharePoint fails at collaboration?

Here at Intergen we run a series of late afternoon sessions called Twilight Seminars. This week we had a guest speaker, Michael Sampson, whose session was based on his white paper: The 7 Pillars of IT-Enabled Team Productivity: The Microsoft SharePoint 2007 Analysis, where he states: “On its own merits, SharePoint fails the needs of teams for collaborative software in 6 out of the 7 areas. It thus passes only one of the areas on its own merits and it passes an additional two areas if the organisation adds additional server software from Microsoft. However, using the software available from Microsoft, it earns a failing grade in 4 out of the 7 areas.”

WOW! That’s quite a claim. But let’s step back a moment here and look at the context. Michael is only looking at SharePoint with respect to Collaboration – that’s one portion of the SharePoint pie:

Fair enough, that’s his thing and it is well worth evaluating the merits of SharePoint for Collaboration, seeing as this portion of the pie is included in both WSS and MOSS. So let’s take a quick look at how Michael faults SharePoint. To talk about how SharePoint ‘fails’ I’ll just cover off Michael’s reference framework: The 7 Pillars of IT-Enabled Team Productivity.

  • Pillar 1 – Shared Access to Team Data
  • Pillar 2 – Location-Independent Access to Team Data, People and Applications
  • Pillar 3 – Real-Time Joint Editing and Review
  • Pillar 4 – Coordinate Schedules with Team Aware Scheduling Software
  • Pillar 5 – Build Social Engagement through Presence, Blogs and IM
  • Pillar 6 – Enterprise Action Management
  • Pillar 7 – Broaden the Network through Automatic Discovery Services

Now, Pillar 1 gets an outright pass, Pillars 3 and 5 receive passes when you add Office Communications Server to your environment. That’s 3/7 – an outright fail overall! Who thought that SharePoint was that bad? I certainly didn’t and in my opinion, it’s not.

I’m going to focus on the two areas that Michael concentrated on during his presentation: Location-Independent Access and Team Aware Scheduling.

Pillar 2 – Location-Independent Access – gets a fail because of the inability to use the client integration features in an offline mode and have seamless sync back once a network connection is restored.

I ask you, though, is that the responsibility of SharePoint, a SERVER product, or Office, the client tool that is being used? I agree it’s not ideal if you have users that have to work with documents while they are offline. But why fault the server product and not the client tool? Maybe I’m blame shifting but either way it is something that Microsoft should look at improving in Office 14.

For many organisations, this is not going to be an issue, as they’re not going to need this capability, or, in fact, they might just accept this limitation as the number of users impacted by this is going to be insignificant.

Michael did point out a product from a company called Colligo that does provide the automated online/offline synch capabilities that give this pillar a pass.

The point of failure for Pillar 4 – Team Aware Scheduling – boils down to the fact that using team calendars in what Michael considers to be the ‘natural’ way breaks the Free/Busy features of Exchange Server when importing those team calendars into a personal Outlook profile. Using the client integration means of importing when the appointment is only added to the team calendar causes the appointment to be stored on the PC on which that instance of Outlook is hosted, instead of adding it to the shared Exchange hosted calendar.

That is pretty poor, however there is a simple workaround, which is the way I suspect that this feature was designed to work. Every SharePoint calendar has its own email address… So simply invite all the people you need at a given meeting and also invite the team calendar.

So with some investment and a little human factoring you can have SharePoint getting a respectable 5/7 pass on Michael’s ‘7 Pillars’ framework. Let’s face it, IT enablers for business are an investment: engage the right people and ensure that you’re not spending money on things you don’t need. The pillars framework is a means of evaluating a product and how it aligns to your business needs, and not a must-have checklist.

Posted by: Gavin Barron, Solution Architect | 16 April 2008

Tags: Office Communications Server, SharePoint, Collaboration


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